Sunday, April 24, 2011

Paranormal Evidence

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I took photos during our family's Easter egg hunt. It was bright outside, so the LCD screen wasn't easy to see. Around the time of the 20th photo, I noticed a glow around my husband when looking at the LCD screen. I thought it was curious, hoped it didn't ruin my photos, but kept on snapping.

When I got home, I reviewed the pictures, only to find that mystical looking glow in almost every photo. Here's an example where my husband looks like he has a halo and wings:

Froggy faces to protect the innocent (and not so innocent). Otherwise this photo is unedited.
Instead of immediately jumping on the angel or ghost bandwagon, I gave this a long, hard thought or two. First of all, it was incredibly sunny, warm and humid. Secondly, the 'anomaly' neither appears around my son in individual shots of him (he's on the left in the photo above) nor my sister in law who wore a black shirt. Everyone else was wearing white, which we all know reflects light. Plus, only two people had the halo effect-- my husband and father in law-- both of whom happen to not have much hair. I then remembered that I chose the "kids and pets" setting for the pictures. I was shooting kids, after all, and since they move a lot the shutter speed is slower, which allows more light to enter the shot.

This isn't paranormal, but to an untrained or over-enthusiastic person, it sure would look as if is were not of this physical world. What happened in these photos is simple: the shutter speed being slower than normal allowed the camera to pick up the light reflecting off of white shirts and bald, white heads illuminating the moisture, dust and pollen in the air around the subjects which is usually unseen by the naked eye (unless its foggy or hazy). Had I not had a basic (or simple, haha) understanding of photography and science or if I were more overzealous (especially in light--punny-- of my husband's recent health issues plus luck), I would have been inclined to think "hey, guardian angels showing themselves and I have proof!".

(I do think someone is looking out for my husband, but I never engaged the idea that this photo proves that idea.)

Still, it is a really cool effect to have show up on Easter, even though its completely of this world and not of the next. It also demonstrates how easy a ghost photo can be debunked and faked without any special graphics program. You don't even need to know anything beyond point an shoot to do it. Happy accidents like this happen all the time, but any one with a little knowledge of photography and science can explain why there is no "para" involved in a photo.

The other idea we can take away from this is overzealousness does nothing for the fledgling field of paranormal research. Every time "paranormal researchers" put out a photo of the "paranormal" and say its "indisputable proof" or defend an image with their last dying breath, they hurt all of interested in making this a real science. Evidence needs to be able to peer reviewed and in order to be accepted or rejected. I'd rather reject a million pieces of evidence that can't withstand scrutiny even if they were real than have one easily debunkable piece fought over by researchers. Just like that meat in your fridge: Any doubt, throw it out.

I've seen too many people get incredibly personal with their evidence. It's not that I don't believe any of the evidence I'm presented with, its that I know evidence is no good if it cannot withstand peer review. And our peers include a variety of people, including skeptics, which is okay. It's how science becomes science. First and foremost, we, as a group of people trying to make paranormal research more accepted scientifically need to act like scientists with our evidence. Period.

We aren't doing anyone any favors by forcing our beliefs on the community we work within or the recognized scientific community. Even if you think or know that evidence is indisputable, others observations and thoughts are important and the means by which your evidence is validated or dismissed. When someone says "that could be moisture in that photo" and you say "but its not" (and especially if you have no humidity/atmospheric evidence to back up your statement), you are hurting all of us that want to making investigating the paranormal a more credible pursuit. How you handle your evidence and those that scrutinize it is the merit by which your skills, your methods and your results are measured.  

We must put our efforts forth to make sure we treat our data without bias. We need to take photos like the one in this post and put them under a microscope, be willing to throw them out or be willing to admit when we don't have the skills to make an accurate determination (and then hand them over to someone who objective, credible and does have the skills to make that call). That doesn't mean you can't follow your gut instincts or anecdotal evidence when helping a client, it just means you can't prove it to a jury of your peers beyond a reasonable doubt.

Defending that debubkable evidence destroys not only your credibility, but it takes the rest of us down with you. It also leaves the door continually open for these sorts of images:

Ghost puppy is watching you!

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